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The Front Line: Crosby channeling 1988-89 production

by Matt Cubeta /

Every Tuesday during the season, fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy forwards in his weekly segment: "The Front Line." From updated rankings to players you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy forwards insider all season long.


There hasn't been much talk about Sidney Crosby in fantasy leagues despite the fact that he's easily the No. 1 player to this point. Is it simply because we've come to expect this out of him when he's healthy? Is it because people are waiting for him to get hurt? Is it because we don't think he can keep up this absurd pace? No matter the answer, Crosby is looking as good as ever and it made me wonder, "Could Crosby be doing something we haven't seen in a long time?"

Through nine games Crosby has seven goals, 10 assists, a plus-3, four penalty minutes, six power-play points and 37 shots on goal. He started the season with at least one point in his first eight games and also leads the League with five multi-point games. There has been no flaw to his game and any fantasy owner that didn't take Crosby with the first pick in their draft surely is kicking themself right now.

If you extrapolate his current point production across a full 82-game season, Crosby would finish the season with 64 goals and 155 points. That sounds unrealistic in this day and age, but is it that far-fetched to think Crosby won't be able to post something close to that if he can stay healthy all season? After all, he is the best player in the world.

In 1988-89 there was another superstar that was turning heads with his production -- Wayne Gretzky.

Mario Lemieux led the NHL with 85 goals and 199 points in 1988-89. Wayne Gretzky finished second with 168 points, while Steve Yzerman had 155. (Photo: Getty Images)

At that time Gretzky was 28 and already had an unimaginable career's worth of season stat lines (including four seasons with more than 200 points). In 1988-89, his 10th season, he finished with 54 goals and 168 points for the Los Angeles Kings; Crosby is 26 years old and in his ninth NHL season, and is on pace for 155 points. The only other players to finish with more than 155 points in a single season were Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman. All three accomplished the feat in 1988-89.

Crosby has been referred to as the next great one for years, and the thought of him joining a club that includes only Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman just feels right. To be able to maintain these kind of numbers over the course of a full season won't be easy to do, but if someone's going to do it, Crosby seems like the right player to do so.

You might be saying the time period is completely different and it's unrealistic to think anyone could ever come that close to averaging two points per game (something only accomplished by Gretzky and Lemieux over a full season). But goal scoring in general is up these days, and specifically this season (shrinking goalie pads, shallower nets), so who's to say a player of Crosby's caliber can't do something we didn't think was possible.

The real question that remains is whether or not he can stay healthy. If he does play all 82 games, a season we haven't seen in decades is possible for someone that's had these extraordinary expectations throughout his life.

Maybe he won't average two points per game, but a possible 155-point season that would catapult him into the company of Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman would be nice, wouldn't it?



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Joe Pavelski, Sharks -- Last week it was Patrick Marleau trending up and now it's Pavelski. The bottom line is that the Sharks are really good. And Pavelski has been one of the major reasons why. He's currently seventh among all players in Yahoo leagues with three goals and 12 points in nine games. He's also averaging 3.44 shots on goal per game and his power-play production has been incredible (six power-play points while averaging 4:26 of power-play ice time per game).

Steve Downie, Avalanche -- Downie is owned in 44 percent of Yahoo leagues, but he's 20th among all fantasy players thanks to his versatility. He has five points in nine games with a plus-4 rating, but his biggest contribution has been his 36 penalty minutes. Downie still is skating on a line with Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly and could be in line for his best fantasy season yet.

Jiri Hudler, Flames -- I don't expect Hudler to be a point-per-game player, but he is a player that already had two 50-plus point seasons, so there's reason to believe he can be a valuable fantasy player this season. With four goals and seven assists in his first eight games, this easily is the best start Hudler has had to a season. He doesn't shoot a ton (15 shots on goal in eight games), but his consistency has made up for that -- Hudler is the only player in the League with at least a point in every one of his team's games.


Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Blackhawks -- Both players slipped a bit in the rankings due to their recent offensive struggles. Toews has been held without a point in the past four games while Kane is pointless in his past three. I wouldn't be worried about either superstar, but until they snap the skid, they fall behind players like Corey Perry, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.

Brad Marchand, Bruins -- Struggling out of the gate, Marchand was demoted to the third line in favor of Reilly Smith and his value will be limited severely until he gets moved back up. Marchand has two points in seven games and only 12 shots on goal. Bench him until he returns to a top-six role.

Jakub Voracek, Flyers -- While Voracek still is skating alongside Claude Giroux, the Flyers' offense still looks a bit lost. After a breakthrough season in 2012-13, Voracek has yet to find the back of the net in eight games. What's most alarming is that he has 11 shots on goal and no power-play points despite averaging more than four minutes per game in power-play ice time. I'd be concerned if I owned him.


David Clarkson, Maple Leafs -- Clarkson's 10-game suspension will come to an end Tuesday and he'll make his Toronto debut on Friday. If he can get himself onto one of the team's top two lines, there's a lot of hidden value here. Clarkson is a 30-goal scorer and a lock for more than 100 penalty minutes. He's available in 71 percent of leagues and should be scooped up if you need a penalty-minute player with offensive potential.


These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1 Sidney Crosby, Penguins (same) 51 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+3)
2 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (same) 52 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (-5)
3 Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same) 53 PA Parenteau, Avalanche (same)
4 John Tavares, Islanders (+1) 54 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (+2)
5 Corey Perry, Ducks (+2) 55 Alexander Steen, Blues (+15)
6 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (+2) 56 Andrew Ladd, Jets (-4)
7 Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+2) 57 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (+2)
8 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (-3) 58 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (-3)
9 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (-3) 59 Mikko Koivu, Wild (+1)
10 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+2) 60 Brad Marchand, Bruins (-12)
11 Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (+3) 61 Tomas Hertl, Sharks (+15)
12 Zach Parise, Wild (-1) 62 Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (+13)
13 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (-3) 63 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (same)
14 Daniel Sedin, Canucks (-1) 64 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (+2)
15 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+4) 65 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (-4)
16 Martin St Louis, Lightning (+2) 66 David Perron, Oilers (-1)
17 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (same) 67 Jason Pominville, Wild (same)
18 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (-3) 68 Cody Hodgson, Sabres (+3)
19 Evander Kane, Jets (+1) 69 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (+4)
20 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (+2) 70 Dustin Brown, Kings (-3)
21 Anze Kopitar, Kings (-5) 71 Justin Williams, Kings (+1)
22 Logan Couture, Sharks (+3) 72 Tomas Fleischmann, Panthers (+6)
23 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+1) 73 Brad Richards, Rangers (+6)
24 Tyler Seguin, Stars (+4) 74 T.J. Oshie, Blues (+3)
25 Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets (-2) 75 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+5)
26 Jason Spezza, Senators (+1) 76 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (-14)
27 Claude Giroux, Flyers (-6) 77 David Krejci, Bruins (+5)
28 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (+2) 78 Nail Yakupov, Oilers (-14)
29 Bobby Ryan, Senators (same) 79 Chris Stewart, Blues (-5)
30 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+8) 80 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (+3)
31 Taylor Hall, Oilers (-5) DTD 81 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (+14)
32 David Backes, Blues (+1) 82 Teddy Purcell, Lightning (+7)
33 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (-2) 83 Steve Downie, Avalanche (NR)
34 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (+7) 84 Kyle Turris, Senators (same)
35 Jamie Benn, Stars (-3) 85 Derek Roy, Blues (+6)
36 Joe Thornton, Sharks (+8) 86 Mike Richards, Kings (-5)
37 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (-2) 87 Teemu Selanne, Ducks (+13)
38 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (-2) 88 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (-2)
39 Matt Moulson, Islanders (+4) 89 Patrik Elias, Devils (+3)
40 Thomas Vanek, Sabres (-3) 90 Alex Galchenyuk, Canadiens (same)
41 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (+9) 91 Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks (+2)
42 Milan Lucic, Bruins (-2) 92 Blake Wheeler, Jets (-5)
43 Derek Stepan, Rangers (-4) 93 Jiri Hudler, Flames (NR)
44 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (+1) 94 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (+4)
45 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (+4) 95 Mikhail Grabovski, Capitals (-7)
46 Jeff Carter, Kings (+7) 96 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (+3)
47 Ryan Kesler, Canucks (-1) 97 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes (NR)
48 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (-6) 98 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (NR)
49 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (+8) 99 Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (NR)
50 Brent Burns, Sharks (+8) DTD 100 Lars Eller, Canadiens (NR)

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Brayden Schenn, Damien Brunner, Ray Whitney

Injured: Rick Nash, James Neal, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Callahan, Alexandre Burrows, Vincent Lecavalier, Sam Gagner, Scott Hartnell, Beau Bennett, Nathan Horton, Mike Cammalleri, Carl Hagelin, Ryane Clowe, Daniel Briere, Martin Havlat, David Jones

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